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Venice Piazza San Marco

St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square

Piazza San Marco (often known in English as St Mark's Square), is the principal public square of Venice, Italy, where it is generally known just as "the Piazza". All other urban spaces in the city (except the Piazzetta and the Piazzale Roma) are called "campi" (fields). The Piazzetta (the 'little Piazza') is an extension of the Piazza towards the lagoon in its south east corner (see plan). The two spaces together form the social, religious and political centre of Venice and are commonly both considered together. This article relates to both of them.

A remark usually attributed to Napoleon calls the Piazza San Marco "the drawing room of Europe". (The attribution to Napoleon is unproven).It is one of the few great urban spaces in Europe where human voices prevail over the sounds of motorized traffic.

The Piazza is dominated at its eastern end by the great church of St Mark. It is described here by a perambulation starting from the west front of the church (facing the length of the Piazza) and proceeding to the right.

St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square

The west facade of St Mark's basilicaThe church is described in the article St Mark's Basilica, but there are aspects of it which are so much a part of the Piazza that they must be mentioned here, including the whole of the west facade with its great arches and marble decoration, the romanesque carvings round the central doorway and, above all, the four horses which preside over the whole piazza and are such potent symbols of the pride and power of Venice that the Genoese in 1379 said that there could be no peace between the two cities until these horses had been bridled and, four hundred years later, Napoleon, after he had conquered Venice, had them taken down and shipped to Paris.

The Piazzetta dei Leoncini is an open space on the north side of the church named after the two marble lions (presented by Doge Alvise Mocenigo in 1722), but now officially called the Piazzetta Giovanni XXIII. The neo-classic bulding on the east side adjoining the Basilica is the Palazzo Patriarcale, the seat of the Patriarch of Venice.

St Mark's Square

St Mark's Square

Beyond that is the Clock Tower, completed in 1499, above a high archway where the street known as the Merceria (a main thoroughfare of the city) leads through shopping streets to the Rialto, the commercial and financial centre. To the right of the clocktower is the closed church of San Basso, designed by Baldassare Longhena (1675), sometimes open for exhibitions.

To the left is the long arcade along the north side of the Piazza, the buildings on this side are known as the Procuratie Vecchie}, the old procuracies, formerly the homes and offices of the Procurators of Saint Mark, high officers of state in the days of the republic of Venice. They were built in the early 16th century. The arcade is lined with shops and restaurants at ground level, with offices above. The restaurants include the famous Caffe Quadri, which was patronised by the Austrians when Venice was ruled by Austria in the 19th century, while the Venetians preferred Florian's on the other side of the Piazza.

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